My frustrating tomatoes

piscesfish(6)May 27, 2011

I have two large, beautiful Amish Red Brandywine's that are doing great. They're covered with blossoms, which open and then shrivel after being pollinated, but then just drop off! My Freckled Child and Jellybean hybrid are also doing the same thing! But the Chocolate Cherry isn't. It is forming tomatoes. So, why are some plants suffering from blossom drop while others aren't? I do have them planted in different parts of the garden where the soil is a little different. The Amish Reds and Freckled child are in a sandier soil. The Jellybean hybrid is in a container and the other toms are in more of a clay. It's so frustrating! How do I make them quit this unacceptable behaviour?


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What are the temps where you are?

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 4:39PM
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If they don't respond to counting to three, I think a time-out is in order.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 4:41PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

VARIETIES: Well, for starters, Brandywines are notorious for not setting well in Oklahoma most years so that's one strike against them. They also are late-season types so often don't set fruit until late June and you don't get to harvest any until August or September. That's why you won't see Brandywine on many "best varieties for Oklahoma" lists. I've had better luck with some Brandywine crosses most years than with plain old Brandywine.

Freckled Child isn't well-tested here, so I don't know if it will set well here or not. It is a Brad Gates variety out of California, and some of his set well here and others don't. I'm growing 8 or 10 of his varieties, but I haven't really looked at them closely to see if the blooms are setting fruit. I do know that his 'Michael Pollan' did set fruit very early in my garden this year, as did 'Black and Brown Boar' and 'Large Barred Boar'. When I go back out to the garden in a few minutes, I'll look at all my Brad Gates' varieties, including Freckled Child, and see if they're setting fruit. Hopefully Carson'sMimi will see this and tell you how her Brad Gates varieties are setting.

Jellybean should set well no matter the temperature or humidity, but it doesn't start until its ready. Once it starts setting fruit, it just doesn't stop. Patience.

Chocolate Cherry is forming fruit because it is a bite-sized tomato and virtually all bite-sized tomatoes do not have the fruit-set issues that larger-fruited tomatoes suffer from which are largely weather-related. It does seem a little odd that Choc Cherry is setting and Jelly Bean isn't, but tomatoes do that sometimes.

HIGH/LOW NITROGEN: Your plants could be receiving too much nitrogen. Or, too little. Be sure no one is using a lawn fertilizer in any place where rainwater could wash it down to your plants. It wouldn't even necessarily have to be on your property if your property receives rain runoff from other people's property.

WIND: Your plants could be overly stressed by excessively windy weather. Often, when it is extremely windy, tomato plants don't set well, and this has been a very windy spring.

EXCESS HUMIDITY: High humidity makes pollen sticky so it doesn't shed within the flower. No shedding of pollen = no fruit. Sometimes you can work around this by thumping each individual flower (early morning is the best time) or, if they are caged, by gently shaking each cage. The thumping or shaking sometimes can make the pollen move around enough inside the flower to enable fruitset. You also could try hand pollinating with a brush, but it is a time-consuming process.

TEMPERATURES TOO HIGH OR TOO LOW: Temperatures that are too high or too low impact pollenization/fertilization of tomatoes. What have your daytime highs been like the last couple of weeks? Your nighttime lows? The temperatures' effects are strongest on non-bite-size tomatoes, and in general, the larger the fruit a plant produces, the more that plants' pollination/fertilization is impacted.

My best guess would be the temperatures or the wind.

There are other minor reasons that less commonly cause problems.

Check your flowers carefully for thrips or thrip damage. Even though thrips are very tiny, they can cause a lot of problems. If you don't know what thrips or thrip damage look like, just google and I'm sure you'll find plenty of into about thrips and tomatoes.

Finally, is there any sort of a street light, porch light or yard security light near your plants? If they are getting too much light at night, they can malfunction.

As for making them quit the unacceptable behavior, you can't do it. The best way to ensure good fruit set is to plant well-adapted, proven varieties into well-prepared soil at the proper time and then just cross your fingers and hope the weather cooperates. Around here, there are some years when the weather cooperates and some years when it doesn't. So far, this has been one of those years where it is working against us more than it is working with us.

Every variety reacts to various stressors differently, and even within the same variety you'll see variations in plant response. Plants that perform well in crappy conditions one year may not perform well in similar crappy conditions in another year. Plants are like people---they are individuals and are not identical clones that all peform uniformly.

What usually works best is to relax and ignore the tomato plants for a while. They'll straighten up and start setting fruit in order to get your attention.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 5:03PM
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It is hard to tell about my garden right now because it is just too wet to predict what is going to happen. I did manage to get a few weeds out today, but it is beginning to look like rain here. If I can continue to work out there and remove the bottom leaves of some of the tomato plants then I think I can save all but two. Two of the three tomato plants that I brought home from the swap look like they are gone. I have had that happen before, although they have been hardened off where they were planted, they just don't always do well in my climate. Maybe they just don't have time to get adjusted and get good roots before our weather issues hit them. It could be a problem with where they are planted, but the peppers next to them aren't having any problems. From now on I will grow those in containers instead of trying to put them in the ground. (Chandra, the RH is still hanging on for now.)

The broccoli continues to grow a little each day so maybe it will be OK. The onions that are bolting all appear to be in the same area. I planted three types in a continous bed, so maybe the other variaties will not bolt.

I have pulled so many things and fed to the chickens that they go crazy when I am in the garden. I guess they are now disappointed when I take things into the house. LOL

My largest crop this year is diffently mosquitoes tho. They are just thick and vicious. Al is going to be helping in Joplin tomorrow so I told him to be sure and take a bug repellent because I'll bet they are really bad up there too. Our area of the Church was asked to provide 200 men and boys over 14 for the weekend. They would be from Grove and the NW Arkansas area. Last I heard they had 256 going for Saturday. They have set up a tent city so they can sleep and then continue the next day, but Al has a speaking assignment for Sunday so he is just working tomorrow. The LDS Chapel in Joplin was totally destroyed and a representative from Salt Lake City is in town to help cooridinate the clean up effort. He is working with other relief organizations so they will be sent where they are needed most. They plan to do this every weekend for the next two months. A truckload of supplies has already arrived there from the Church. Groups of men within traveling distance will be asked to help. They will take tools like chain saws and be prepared for the hard work of cleaning up.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Carol - bless you and your husband for helping in Joplin.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 9:30PM
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Thanks as always for the info. I'm just not patient. I tend to want things now, now now. Luckily, gardening is helping me work on that. Ha!

As per questions, I've checked for thrips. My poor Freckled Child DOES have very light thrip damage. My Brandywine's, not a bit, nor do my other toms. Perhaps this is because I surrounded them with African Marigolds (the natural source of Pyrethrum)?

Unfortunately, my beans also have thrip damage. Stupid thrips. This most likely explains why I have an army of ladybugs in my garden.

So, now it's war. Should I spray with Neem? Or just keep the plants very moist? Or put foil around the base of the tomato? Or spray with garlic? So many options....but which one works?


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 12:32AM
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Mia, I will tell DH but it is only the men at this point. I am not doing anything.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 1:02AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


One thing about gardening, especially in our climate, is that it will force you to be patient. And, often, it will break your heart because there's 9 million wayts the Oklahoma weather can make gardening especially difficult at times.

With thrips, control sometimes can be difficult to achieve. I think your odds of success with neem are pretty good, but try to spray carefully and precisely to avoid hurting your lady bugs because neem oil can smother them. If you have a Spinosad product, you might try spraying your plants with it.

Thrips in and of themselves hardly are the end of the world. However, some thrips carry Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus which is a devastating tomato plant disease for which the only cure is to pull and dispose of the plants.

It is important that you try to keep the thrips from spreading. Jay has had good luck repelling those types of insects with Garlic Barrier. I buy it at Tractor Supply but don't know if every TSC carries it. However, it is really easy to make a garlic tea spray or a garlic-pepper tea spray that likely will repel thrips and hopefully keep them from populating your entire garden. You can Google and find a garlic tea or garlic-pepper tea spray. It is a common organic solution to some pest problems. It functions as a repellent, not a pesticide. The thrips travel on the wind. If you have a weedy yard or weedy fields around you, that likely is where they came from.

I'm going to link the ATTRA publication on thrips. I think its' focus is mostly greenhouses, but you still should be able to glean some useful info from it. To fight the enemy, you need to understand the enemy and the ATTRA publication will help you understand the enemy.

If I had thrips on plants in my large garden, I wouldn't mess around. I'd likely order and release beneficial insects and, while waiting for them to arrive, I'd spray with Spinosad. If I only had thrips on a handful of plants, I'd spray those plants with neem oil but I wouldn't spray the entire garden with it because I have a huge population of beneficial insects and wouldn't want to harm hem. However, if you have a small garden, the cost of the beneficial insects probably isn't a reasonable investment as they rarely are cheap, especially once you are having to buy anything other than simple ladybugs or green lacewings.

Good luck, keep us posted on your thrip battle.


Here is a link that might be useful: ATTRA: Thrips

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:49AM
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Carol - sharing your husband is a generous thing for you to do. With marriage, it's all a joint effort!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 9:30AM
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